20 Types of Leadership Models and Theories in Management

In its definition, leadership is a process by which a person influences others to achieve an objective and directs the group in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. There are many different ways to be an effective leader and a positive influence to those who work along with you. An individual that is often deemed an effective leader in one field isn’t nearly as effective in other fields. The following leadership models and theories are rooted in these styles.

1. The Great Man Theory
In this theory, leadership is seen as a heroic act on the part of the individual. There is something special about a person’s combination of qualities, personality traits, and abilities that sets him or her up as a great leader and separates that person from the rest of the pack. The Great Man Theory is simple in its foundation as businesses have long been turning to individuals who are capable of inspiring others to achieve a common goal, to provide motivation and support on the way towards realizing this goal. This theory considers character traits exclusively and not individual behavior.

2. Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory
This theory suggests that the most effective leadership style is affected by the circumstances leaders find themselves in. A leader’s ability to lead hinges on situational factors. If these factors are understood, leaders will be able to influence their surroundings and followers much better than if these factors were ignored. Situational leaders focus on followers rather than the workplace environment, according to Hersey and Blanchard. Leaders change their behavior according to the needs of their followers, and they adapt and progress in response to the demands of followers. Hersey’s model describes influence behaviors and performance readiness while Blanchard’s model describes leadership styles and development levels.

3. Change Formula
The Change Formula is a simple but powerful tool that gives potential leaders a quick, first impression of the possibilities and conditions to change a company. This formula has been seen as a major milestone for the field of Organizational Development, which has expanded gradually over time. The model of this formula by Beckhard and Harris is attributed to David Gleicher. Business objectives, employee engagement, and organizational success make up the focus of this formula. The formula is “Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps > Resistance to Change.” All three of these components must all be present to overcome the resistance to change in the workplace.

4. The Lewin Theory of Behavioral Leadership
Kurt Lewin’s model of behavioral leadership argues that there are 3 types of leaders, which include Autocratic, Democratic, and Laissez-Faire types of leaders. Autocratic leaders make decisions as dictators without discussing matters with their teams. Decision-making is fast with autocrats because it is useful for short-duration projects that have a very tight deadline where the business needs to make snap decisions. Democratic leadership seeks the input of the team before decisions are made. Responsibility for the decision and its outcome is shared. Laissez-faire is French for “let people do as they choose.” This means that leaders don’t interfere with what their employees are doing. This leadership style works when employees are motivated and capable of delivering excellent work without the need for close supervision.

5. Transformational Leadership
James MacGregor Burns developed the theory of transformational leaders in the context of political leadership, where two types of leaders exist. There are transactional and transformational leaders. Transactional leaders use the carrot and stick method to influence their followers, providing incentives and withholding rewards, and they gain compliance by what they offer in exchange. Transformational leaders motivate their followers to support each other and the entire business. Employees respond with feelings of loyalty, admiration, and trust for this leader. The source of a transformational leader’s power consists of 4 behaviors, which are idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration.

6. Disruptive Innovation
Harvard professor Clayton Christensen conducted research on the disk-drive industry in 1997, publishing a book titled “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Examined was the way an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complexity and expensiveness are the status quo. Products and services that are not as good as what exists in the market, but are simpler in function, more convenient and cheaper represent disruptive innovation. Incumbents, the largest companies in certain industries, will allow new companies to make advancements to their products if they don’t act. Incumbents can either change the processes and values of their current organization, acquire a different organization, or create an independent organization.

7. Management by Objectives
This theory was first popularized by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book titled “The Practice of Management.” Management by Objectives is the process of defining specific objectives within an organization that management can convey to their employees, then deciding how to achieve the company’s desired objectives. The framework of this theory consists of 5 steps. Managers and supervisors first review their organizational goal. Next, they set the worker objective. The third step involves them monitoring the progress of their workers. Then they evaluate what is done, and finally, they will give employees rewards if the job was performed correctly. The principle is for employees to have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

8. Hierarchy of Needs Theory
In 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed the Hierarchy of Needs Theory. This theory states that there is a hierarchy of 5 needs within each individual, which are physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. Unsatisfied needs motivate individuals, according to Maslow. Physiological needs are basic needs like air, water, food, clothing, and shelter. Safety needs are physical, environmental, and emotional safety and protection. Social needs include the need for love, affection, and care. Esteem needs are internal such as self-respect and confidence, and external such as recognition, power, and status. The self-actualization need is the urge to become what you are capable of becoming, and what you have the potential to become. It includes the need for growth and self-contentment.

9. Leadership Pipeline
Walter Mahler published a framework on his findings at General Electric in the 1970s in a paper titled Critical Career Crossroads. Mahler argued for a shift in work values at different stages of the organization to ensure leadership success. In 2000, Ram Charan, Stephen J. Drotter, and James Noel took Mahler’s ideas further in their book titled “The Leadership Pipeline.” There are 6 steps to the Leadership Pipeline model created in a way that leaders are able to develop the competencies required and ultimately lead to the ability to be in charge of the organization.

1) Managing Self to Managing Others
2) Managing Others to Leading Managers
3) Leading Managers to Functional Manager
4) Functional Manager to Business Manager
5) Business Manager to Group Manager
6) Group Manager to Enterprise Manager

10. Change Phases
In 1990 John Krotter concluded in his book titled “A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management” that there are 8 reasons why many change processes fail.

  • Too much complacency being allowed
  • Failing to build a substantial coalition
  • Understanding the need for a clear vision
  • Failure to communicate the vision
  • Permitting roadblocks against the vision
  • Not planning and getting short-term victories
  • Declaring victory prematurely
  • Not anchoring changes in corporate culture

Krotter’s model of changing phases consists of 8 parts, which are the following;

1) Establish a sense of urgency
2) Create a coalition
3) Develop a clear vision
4) Share the vision
5) Encourage people to clear obstacles
6) Secure short-term victories
7) Consolidate and keep moving
8) Anchor the change

11. Servant Leadership
In this model of leadership, one needs to focus on the needs of others, especially the needs of his or her employees before considering their own. The job of this leader is to acknowledge the varying perspectives of other people and give them support in achieving their goals in the right manner. When applying this type of model, leaders should try to involve their team members in decisions where their opinion truly matters. The more that company teammates are engaged together, the better their efforts will lead to innovation. Having such a leadership model may not work in a hierarchical environment, but it can create a strong community sense within a team.

12. Five Competitive Forces
Understanding the competitiveness of a business environment and identifying your strategy’s potential profitability make up the core of this theory. Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter created this business strategy tool called the Five Competitive Forces and published it in 1979. According to Porter, five forces make up the competitive environment, which are the following;

1) Competitive Rivalry. The number and strength of your competitors are examined.
2) Supplier Power. How easy is it for your suppliers to increase their prices?
3) Buyer Power. How many buyers are there, and how large are their orders?
4) Threat of Substitution. A substitution that is easy and cheap to make can weaken your company’s position and profitability.
5) Threat of New Entry. Depending on people’s ability to enter your market, your position could be affected.

13. Three Levels of Culture
MIT professor Edgar Schein created this three-level model of organization culture, arguing that organizations don’t adopt a culture in a single day, but is formed in due course of time as employees go through various changes, adapt to the external environment and solve problems.

1) Artifacts. The first level is an organization’s characteristics that can be easily seen, heard, and felt by individuals collectively known as artifacts. Dress codes, furniture, facilities, and behaviors are examples.
2) Values. The values of the individuals working in the organization can be critical in deciding the organization’s culture. What people actually think matters a lot for the organization.
3) Assumed Values. The third level is the assumed values (certain beliefs and facts) of the employees which can’t be measured but do make a difference to the culture.

14. Stages of Team Development
Bruce Wayne Tuckman published the first four stages of growth in 1965, and then with Mary Ann Jensen in 1977 added a fifth stage. Tuckman’s belief was that these stages are inevitable in order for a team to grow to the point where they function well together and deliver high-quality results.

1) Forming. This first stage is when the team first meets each other.
2) Storming. Teammates compete with each other for status and for acceptance of their ideas.
3) Norming. The team is no longer focused on individual goals, but rather are focused on developing ways of working together (processes and procedures).
4) Performing. The focus is on reaching the goal as a group.
5) Adjourning. The project is coming to an end and the team members are moving off into different directions.

15. Authentic Leadership Model
Authentic leaders are all about sincerity. They are aware of their values, and strive to reflect those values in how they speak, act, and lead. By staying true to these values the credibility of these leaders increases. Self-awareness also means that authentic leaders often realize the depth of the impact of their interactions and decisions have on a team. Relational transparency indicates that authentic leaders will be much more of an open book to those they work with. Authentic leaders don’t put emphasis on office politics, bias, or emotional attachment, according to this model. Data and metrics matter more to authentic leaders, and they use these kinds of objective information to make decisions.

16. Autocratic Leadership Model
Standing on its own, the autocratic leadership model is all about chain of command and top-down instructions. Collaboration is small and decision-making is strongly dictated by the people on top. The rest of the team may or may not provide input, but the final decision always rests on the leader’s shoulders. The team is supposed to implement whatever the leader decides to do. In situations where major decisions have to be made quickly and frequently, getting input from others can become a waste of time. The rigidity of this model often makes for more strict supervision, which can be profitable and productive for the company.

17. Laissez-Faire Leadership Model
The exact opposite of autocratic leadership, this model by itself has a strong reliance on the input of others. The role and the supervision of a Laissez-Faire leader minimal, who leans on the shoulders of teammates to exercise their own initiatives and player a larger part in the decision-making process. This style is very laid back, but in an environment where talented and creative people dominate, this approach can be successful. As long as a number of basic principles are adhered to, this leadership model encourages a much higher level of creativity and freedom, which satisfies many stockholders and employees alike.

18. Shared Leadership Model
Also known as the Democratic Leadership model, power and authority are vested in a group in this model. Shared leadership is much more flexible and can better withstand sudden changes in the organizational structure. Shared leadership also promotes collaboration and cooperation among teammates, thus generally making employees much more motivated to work and be productive. A manager doesn’t need to exhaust all of his or her resources as there are proper decision-makers for every major step of the workflow, ensuring better quality control. Under shared leadership, there is much more freedom, and as they recognize this, employees are much more inclined to practice and apply their creativity.

19. Fiedler’s Contingency Theory
Fred Fielder developed his theory in the late 1960s, which centers around more of a situational leadership style. Fiedler believes that there are two types of leaders, one who is task-oriented and one who is people-oriented. According to this theory, the elements that would impact the effectiveness of leadership are;

  • How clearly defined and structured the job scope is
  • How much positional power the leader has
  • The relationship between leaders and followers

Adaptation in leadership is key. The best leaders adapt and will adjust themselves according to the situation. The point is to learn when to be a task-oriented leader, and when to be a people-oriented leader.

20. Path-Goal Leadership Theory
Robert House developed the Path-Goal Leadership Theory, which states that leaders will adjust and adapt to behaviors that will play to the strengths of their subordinates and compensates their weaknesses. The leader is assumed to be flexible in his or her style, changing according to the competencies of their followers in order to achieve organizational goals. House states that there are 4 leadership styles that can be applied, such as directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented leadership styles. The point of this theory is that if a leader can balance these 4 styles well enough and use them when appropriate, the leader will be positioned for success.


It is easy to notice that many of these leadership models and management theories appear to blend in with each other in some ways. In reality, new leadership models are bound to be made by companies that will take pieces of existing models and incorporate those elements into their work environments. It all depends on what kind of work environment you want your company to have, and how you want your team to function. One key point about effective leadership is that one must have a general feeling of what his or her team needs to succeed.

Author Biography
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.